Meet Artist in Residence Noormah Jamal
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Noormah Jamal is a Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist originally from Pakistan. She earned her MFA in Painting and Drawing from Pratt Institute (2023) and holds a BFA in Mughal Miniature painting from The National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. Her work centers around identity and the personal baggage that people carry. Heavy in symbolism, she approaches much of her practice through a child's lens.
The Children's Workshop School is a progressive public elementary school founded on the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr. — freedom, equality, mutuality, respect, racial justice, grassroots organizing, and advocacy. CWS has been a leader in welcoming Asylum Seeking families in the past year to their school community, many of whom are native Spanish speakers and English Language Learners.
“The storytelling element in art has played a vital role in my life and artistic practice. I am eager to foster mutual growth with my students, creating a space where we can all tap into our creativity, express ourselves, and learn from each other.”
Niousha as a young artist
Tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you.
My practice primarily is about the personal baggage that people carry. It's about existence, marginalized existence, overlooked existence, neglected existence, non-mainstream existence — with all the joys and sorrows that are intertwined with existence.
Children are incredibly honest and adventurous. I found that to avoid hesitation in creating or second guessing myself, I started approaching my practice through the lens of a 7-9 year old me and how she saw the world. The symbolism from my childhood. Incorporating acts of play while I create. Being a Teaching Artist keeps me inspired. It keeps me connected to that version of me. So I don't forget that way of experiencing and looking at the world.
Do you have any memorable experiences of children interacting with your artwork?
I had an exhibition back home where I had made magnetized ceramic tiles like fridge magnets. It was an interactive installation where people could move the tiles and change the composition of the work. The adults in the space were hesitant, but everything changed when these two kids accompanying their parents started “playing.” They went on to narrate the tale they were illustrating by moving the tiles. I'll never forget the conversations I had with them. Now, with much of my 3D work I always think, “how would I play with them?”
When did you first know you were going to be an artist?
It's been pretty on and off. I wasn't 100% sure I wanted to pursue art as a career until I was 18. I flirted with the idea of being a vet, lawyer, or psychologist, but creating and making art was always a constant. Many called it a “hobby.” Being told that I should pursue something “stable” as my undergrad major made a switch go off in my head. I knew I wanted to pursue being an artist.
In your words, what does it mean to be an artist?
When you feel it's a “necessity” to create.
What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?
Don't stop making and creating. Make work for yourself, not for what you think people want to see.
Can you describe a fruitful childhood experience that influenced your practice?
I didn't play “gentle” with my toys as a child. I remember having Polly Pocket sets with all the small dolls missing. The replacements weren't easy to find and were very expensive, and my mother had made it clear I would not get more. A lot of my early creation came from necessity or a “need,”' and I started making my own miniature Polly Pockets out of plasticine from the age of 7. I made close to 100 by the time I was ten. A lot of the androgynous faces I sculpt and the root of the 'sacred bust series' in my practice stems from those tiny figures I made all those years back.
Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?
YES! Making giant cityscapes with cardboard and old cereal boxes.
Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?
Having a creative outlet is incredibly important. Art is a great medium for self expression. Through the years I feel there has been this notion of art being for a certain class, environment, or group of people. There should be no gatekeeping in art. There is so much good it can foster.